Turkish Premier Tells Bush Genocide Bill Would Hurt Ties

By Michael Abramowitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 6, 2007

The prime minister of Turkey telephoned President Bush yesterday to complain about a resolution before Congress describing the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during and after World War I as a "genocide."

Bush expressed his opposition to the measure and his belief that passage would be "harmful" to U.S.-Turkey relations to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe.

"The president has described the events of 1915 as 'one of the greatest tragedies of the 20th century' but believes that the determination of whether or not the events constitute a genocide should be a matter for historical inquiry, not legislation," Johndroe said.

But Bush's words may not be enough to diminish strong congressional support for the resolution. Brendan Daly, spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the resolution is likely to be approved in committee next week and, with 226 co-sponsors, appears to have the votes to pass on the floor. While Pelosi has spoken to Turkish officials and is mindful of their concerns, Daly added, "it's a bipartisan bill" and "she is supportive of bringing it the floor."

Such resolutions long have irritated U.S.-Turkish relations, but passage of such a measure has been this close only once: In 2000, a similar resolution was pulled from the House floor after President Bill Clinton intervened.

Turkey has acknowledged that large numbers of Armenians were killed between 1915 and 1923, during the latter stages of the Ottoman Empire, but it rejects descriptions of the killings as a genocide and notes that many Muslim Turks were also killed during this time period.

Among the retaliatory steps being mentioned in Ankara is the possibility of denying the United States the use of an airbase in southern Turkey, through which the Pentagon moves a considerable amount of supplies for the war effort in Iraq. Erdogan told Bush in the call that the bill would also "damage efforts to develop relations between Turkey and Armenia," according to the state-run Anatolian news agency.

At a briefing for reporters yesterday, Daniel Fried, the top State Department official in charge of Europe policy, said the administration does not deny "that a terrible and inexcusable tragedy of mass killings and forced exile" befell the Armenians. "But we do not believe that this bill would advance either the cause of historical truth or Turkish-Armenian reconciliation or the interests of the United States, and we oppose it."

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the author of the legislation, said in a statement this week that the United States has "a compelling historical and moral reason to recognize the Armenian genocide, which cost a million-and-a-half people their lives. But we also have a powerful contemporary reason as well -- how can we take effective action against the genocide in Darfur if we lack the will to condemn genocide whenever and wherever it occurs?"

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